Writing I

English 105-053
Meeting in Dumbach 125, Tuesdays & Thursdays, 1:00-2:15 PM

(Be sure to check out the course schedule.)

Course Description

In everyday life, we write not only to communicate, but also to learn. These principles will be fundamental to everything we do in this class. Much of our time will be spent writing: either in “freewriting” or in responding to what we have read. We will also discuss your writing, so that you can learn to discern what your readers may expect from you. Through regular short assignments and a few longer essays, I hope that you will become more comfortable—and more fluent—writers and that you will be prepared to face the rigors of the university.

Required Texts

You can purchase these books at Beck’s. Along with the required texts that I have listed above, Loyola University requires you to purchase The Writer’s Harbrace Handbook (brief edition) and Your Introduction to Writing at Loyola. These books can be found at Beck’s and at the university bookstore.

Many of our readings will come from Oates and Updike, but a few of them will be given as handouts. If you know of or stumble across a piece of writing that you think will add to our class’s discussion, please bring it to my attention after class or during my office hours, so that we can plan how to incorporate it into the schedule.

Grammar and Mechanics

During the first six weeks we will read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. There will be brief in-class quizzes on the first four chapters; these quizzes are marked on the schedule. In addition to these quizzes, we will frequently discuss grammar and mechanics in the contexts of communication and clarity in writing.

Participation and Attendance

During our time in class, we will spend the majority of our time discussing the assigned reading or your writing or both; your participation is necessary for this to be an actual conversation. Because we need your input, your regular attendance is also important. I do understand that things may come up that prevent your attending class; therefore, you have two “free” absences, for use as sick, personal, or study days. Three or more absences will negatively affect your participation grade; more than six absences are grounds for failure. (Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class. If you arrive after attendance has been taken, see me at the end of class, so that you will not be considered absent.)

Academic Honesty

Familiarize yourself with Loyola’s policies concerning academic honesty. Especially important in a writing course is the policy on plagiarism—a form of intellectual theft, which is more specifically discussed in many writing handbooks, including Your Introduction to Writing at Loyola (18-24). Plagiarism is a very serious offense and will result in immediate failure of this course and in further consequences determined by the university. See me if you have any questions regarding the appropriate use of outside sources.

Other Resources

You have access to several excellent resources at Loyola, including the library staff (for help with research) and the Writing Center (for help with your writing—but note that the staff will not proofread your papers). Contact information can be found at the front of Your Introduction to Writing at Loyola. In addition, Steven Nassar, Director of Loyola Writing Centers, will present more information to you during one of our classes early this term. I am also available during my office hours to help you sort out any issues you are having with this class. Do not hesitate to get any help you feel you need!


Generally I will evaluate your writing along similar lines to those listed in Your Introduction to Writing at Loyola (16-17). I will not accept late response papers except in extraordinary circumstances. Late essays will be graded down one grade for each day they are late. (E.g., a “B” essay that is one day late will receive a grade of “C+.”) Extensions will be granted up to one week before the paper is due. Again, I will take extraordinary circumstances into consideration before grading your paper down.

Note: All work to be turned in must be submitted on paper; I will not accept electronic submissions.

The class’s grade distribution is as follows:

Graded Material


At the beginning of most classes, we will spend 10 to 15 minutes in a practice called “freewriting.” This is an opportunity for you to write about anything that comes into your mind. The only requirement is that you write for the allotted time. Some topics to consider include your thoughts on that day’s reading assignment, something you have seen or experienced recently, or what a despot your writing instructor is—the topic is up to your discretion. Because these writings are your private, unedited thoughts, they will not be collected or graded by me. Freewriting is a process to help get your creative juices flowing (pardon the cliché).

Response Papers

Every week, brief response papers are due. (See the schedule for specific dates.) For each paper, you have the option of responding to any one of the assigned readings; note, however, that your response is due on the same day that the reading is scheduled. Hand in your response at the end of class—you may wish to reference it during our in-class discussion. You can skip one of these response papers without penalty.

Response papers are not individually graded. I’ll return them to you within a week of your handing them in, with a few comments and a mark of “check-plus,” “check,” or “check-minus” (i.e., excellent, ok, or unsatisfactory). Your response papers will receive a cumulative grade at the end of the semester, based primarily on your turning in the required amount (10 of 11 out-of-class responses). Factors such as coherence and apparent effort will also be taken into consideration in the final grade. It is far more important, however, that you simply complete these assignments.

These papers should be no longer than one page, typed and double-spaced: fill the page, but don’t be overly concerned with length. As the name suggests, these papers should consist of your responses to that day’s reading assignment. (If multiple pieces are assigned, limit your response to one of them.) Because regurgitation is unappealing in any situation, do not summarize what you’ve read. Instead, share your reaction to the assigned reading or to a specific part of the text. Don’t worry too much about how good your ideas are (they’re probably better than you give yourself credit): be honest about your reactions.

On Thursday, 8/28, there will be an opportunity to sign up to present a response paper to the class. When you present a response paper, you will be expected to bring enough copies for the class (23).

Essay 1

Think of an occasion in your recent past when you were among a group of friends and having a good time. What was the situation? Who was around you? How were they acting? What were you doing and how were you acting? Make sure you describe this experience in enough detail so your readers—in this case, assume your readers to be this class—can understand what happened.

After you’ve set the stage, go on to explore the “role” or “roles” that you (and, perhaps, others) played on this occasion. You may want to focus on behaviors, conversations, appearances, or any other feature you think will assist you in conveying your role. Would you describe your role as leading or supporting? (Naturally, you’ll need to invent your own definitions for these terms.) Was your role on this occasion the same one you always play, or did you customize your role to fit the specific occasion?

I don’t expect you to answer all these questions I’ve posed, and I certainly don’t expect you to organize your discussion around them. The important thing is for you to really tell us something about roles and role-playing—something that we will be interested in reading. Make sure you take an approach that will draw at least 700 words out of you. (Don’t hand-count your words; that’s ridiculous. Instead shoot for 3 - 4 pages of double-spaced text.) Make sure you leave one-inch margins on all sides of the paper, so that I have room for my responses; also put your last name and the page number in the upper right corner of each page.

Bring a completed (and proof-read) essay to class on the due date. Late essays will be graded down according to the standards on the syllabus.

Don’t lose sleep over this writing. We’re all anxious about unknown criteria at this point, so relax and write what you can—strive to be honest and to tell us something meaningful.

This assignment is due Tuesday, Oct. 7.

Essay 2

In this assignment, I would like you to think about roles and role-playing more and see if you can come up with more useful ways of talking about them (or a more complicated, meaningful way). Here are some questions you might want to consider, but only as ways of getting your own thinking focused on something you know about or want to explore. Do not use these questions to organize your essay. Do your best to come up with your own lines of inquiry, your own way into these issues. Here are a few questions to get your thinking started:

Do you identify your “self” with things you do, say, or think; with what people think of you; or a combination of these things? How many people have (what you would call) the same “view” of you? What is this view? What about people who see you completely differently? If there are two or more people who do see you differently—who might describe you very differently—is this an indication that you’re orchestrating (at least) two different roles?

How do other people shape your self-identity? To what extent do other people enrich or limit your understanding of your “self” and the roles you play? (Don’t forget the enduring riddle: if you play roles, is such role-playing compatible with the idea of a definite “self”?)

Do you think you have insight into other people and the roles they play, the things they say and do—or are such things a mystery and destined to remain that way? This may be another way of asking how much you think you know about other people. How much do you want to know? How much can you know? Perhaps better still, what are you willing to count as knowing another person? What kinds of shared knowledge separate a “friend” from an “acquaintance”?

Let me re-emphasize a crucial point: use these questions as a means of discovering what you can say. I would suggest that you give us some helpful narrative—that is, show us some people, action, dialogue. As we have read in many of the assigned texts for this class, skillfully chosen specifics make writing fresh, alive, interesting. Strive to tell us something meaningful and important to you, hoping that it will be the same for us.

As with the last essay, shoot for around four pages of typed, double-spaced text. Leave one-inch margins around the text, and make sure to put your name and the page number in the upper right corner of each page after the first.

This assignment is due Thursday, Nov. 6.

Essay 3

Note: I cannot offer extensions for this paper, sorry. There are two options for this essay, and their descriptions follow. In either option, you are expected to produce at least four pages of well-written, well-thought-out material.

Option 1: “Roles Re(re)visited”

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.
—Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.
—William Stafford

This is going to be our final examination of roles and role-playing (not our final exam, I’m sad to say), and now that much of the easily said is out of the way, it is my hope that we can all plunge deeper into these issues and come away enriched, knowing a little more about ourselves, about other people, and about ways of thinking and talking about who we are, what we say, and how we act.

I’ve included a quote from Kurt Vonnegut to provoke your thinking—or, I should say, provide a new slant from which you may want to examine roles and role-playing. Let me provide some more specific questions as well:

  1. To what extent do you agree with Vonnegut’s claim that “we are who we pretend to be”? Have you ever “pretended” to be a certain way and, in the process, discovered some aspect of your “self” that you like (or dislike, or fear, or laugh at)? What does this tell us about “pretending,” or “role-playing” (and is there a difference between the two)? Keep in mind that much of your task will involve grounding key terms in your own experiences (experiences you should strive to show us, not tell us about). Is there, perhaps, an unacknowledged relationship between playing roles (pretending?) and personal discovery or personal growth?
  2. When we say things like “he’s so phony,” or “she’s so fake,” what do we mean by such indictments? Do we mean that the person in question has a real “self” and that we can tell when that real self is not being put forth? How can you tell? How do you tell when you are being phony or fake? What does it feel like? Is it, in fact, a feeling that gives yourself away to yourself, and is this worse than having someone suspect that you’re putting on some kind of act?
  3. Finally, how certain are you of “who you are,” and how does this notion relate to “who you want to be”? Does the process of becoming who you want to be involve playing roles and pretending or some other processes?

Keep in mind that you must go beyond clichéd sentiments and catch-phrases. Avoid meaningless claims like “although we play roles in different situations, it is always best to be yourself.” Your central task is to hit us hard with good, strong provocative ideas—expressed in good, strong, provocative language. If we’re going to learn from one another, you’ve got to do lots of thinking and lots of substantiating. Don’t forget the importance of details and the necessity of showing us all we need to know to make sense of what you’re telling us. Be conscious of your voice, how you’re coming across. Do you want to sound humorous, intelligent, sarcastic, light, insightful, mysterious? You’re going to sound some way—try to get a feel for what that way is.

Option 2: “So What?”

This option focuses on the close reading of one of the assigned essays or short stories listed on the syllabus (“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is off-limits):

  1. In a close reading of a short story, you should try to figure out what kinds of meaning the text tries to convey and what significance that meaning has for us. Looking at symbols is a good place to start a close reading, but looking at personal pronouns is too, so don’t feel like you need to be too fancy). For any claim you make, be sure to address the great toddler questions: “Why?” and, more importantly, “So what?”
  2. In a close reading of an essay, you need to get to the meat of the author’s argument, evaluate the argument, and decide whether you agree with it or disagree with it. Regardless of your final evaluation, you must provide a basis for your agreement or disagreement (or how you might reach a conclusion between these binaries). The toddler questions are again important: why do you claim what you claim—and why should we care?

Feel free to bring outside sources into your conversation, if they help you make your point. Make sure to document any sources that you use, including a list of “Works Cited” as an additional page at the end. (The “Works Cited” page does not count toward the four-page minimum!)

Most importantly, however, be conscious of your voice, how you’re coming across and how you present your argument. Do you want to sound humorous, intelligent, sarcastic, light, insightful, mysterious? You’re going to sound some way—try to get a feel for what that way is.

This assignment is due Tuesday, Dec. 2.

Final Exam

I won’t say much about the final exam. It will consist primarily of your own thoughts about your writing process. But you will want to be familiar with the various reading assignments.

The exam takes place on Thursday, Dec. 11, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., in Dumbach 227.

Questions? Send me e-mail: .